I want to tell you about the day I realized a well is not enough.
It was the spring of 2013, and we had just spent the day digging trenches and installing water pipe for a water system in the small, rural community of Miguel Cristiano. Because the trip from the Amigos Complex to Miguel Cristiano is fairly long, we decided to spend the night in the community to save travel time and to have a little extra bonding time with the families there.
It was my first time “camping out” in a community, and I loved every minute of it. I loved kicking around a soccer ball and chatting up new friends as we watched the sun set over the hills. I loved the thick, smokey smell of the grill as we waited for our dinner of chanhco asado to finish cooking. I loved stringing up my hammock and watching the stars as they popped out one by one until there were millions, because in such a remote place there is no light to interfere with all the beauty of the heavens.
And then it came time to wash off the dust and sweat at the end of that long and happy day. Miguel Cristiano was lucky in the sense that, when we met them, they already had a clean water well. Like many water projects, whoever drilled it had installed an old-fashioned hand pump on top and considered the job done. And, certainly clean water you have to pump and carry is better than none at all.
The problem that night, of course, was that without a water system there were no showers, so in order to bathe we had set up makeshift showers (think little stalls made of tree branches stuck into the ground with black plastic trashbags stuck on the sides) and each person was responsible for pumping and carrying a 5 gallon bucket of water to the stalls where they could then take a “bucket bath.”
So, ready to be done and showered and sleeping peacefully in my hammock, I got to work filling my bucket. And let me tell you, it is a lot of work. As I stood there, huffing and puffing and heaving and pumping, I thought my back would give out before I could possibly fill just one bucket. When it was finally full, it came time to carry the bucket just 20 feet to where the showers were, and I thought I’d never make it. I lugged and jerked, foot by foot, swinging and dragging and making slow, exhausted progress as my already sore muscles cramped in protest.
And that’s when I realized; a well is not enough. Even a small family would need a dozen buckets like the one I filled every single day to take care of their most basic needs – drinking, cleaning, cooking – and a large family or one with livestock would need even more.
It suddenly made perfect sense why severe dehydration and the chronic kidney disease it causes are so common in rural communities (in fact, Nicaragua is the only country in the world where chronic kidney disease kills more people than any other disease). If I had to pump and carry my water myself, I thought, I wouldn’t drink as much either.
And that’s why Amigos doesn’t just drill wells; we builds systems. Because no one should have to decide between lower back problems and hydration. No one should weigh the pros and cons of spending half their day collecting water and chronic kidney disease. Because water can – and should – be piped right to their doorstep so they can put the buckets down and give their weary arms a rest.
And ever since Miguel Cristiano finished their water system a few months after our trip, it is (not to mention the fact that their spiffy new Modern Bathrooms have made a refreshing shower just a turn-of-the-knob away).
But there are still countless communities just like Miguel Cristiano all over Nicaragua who spend long mornings walking, gathering, carrying. Many don’t have a clean water source, but even if they do, their lives are still controlled by the ever-present task of obtaining the water their families need to survive.
We want to change that. And a well is the start, but it will never be enough.